November 30, 2023

In parashat Toldot, we read about the struggles of our patriarch Isaac, son of Abraham and father of Jacob, with the envy of his neighbors in the land of Canaan. The story begins with a drought that led to a famine, and as was customary in those times, the inhabitants migrated due to a shortage of rain. Isaac decided to move to the Philistine settlement of Gerar, located on the route to Egypt, but experienced a divine revelation instructing him not to descend to Egypt and to stay in Canaan. The directive was accompanied by a promise: “I will be with you and bless you.”

However, with success came the jealousy of the Philistines, the inhabitants of Gerar. As Isaac’s servants dug wells in the southern part of the land of Canaan – where water was scarce and precious – the Philistines filled the wells. This pattern repeated itself, forcing Isaac to distance himself from Gerar to successfully access water.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a prominent 19th-century Frankfurt rabbi and Bible commentator, suggests looking at the difference between Abraham and Isaac as the beginning of the exile.

According to the ancient rule that “the actions of the fathers are a sign for the children,” meaning that what happened to the forefathers of the nation symbolizes what will happen to the Jewish people in history, the Jewish people has gone through a similar descent in its status.

Rabbi Hirsch suggests that the exit from exile toward redemption will be an inverse process. The challenge before us is always to be worthy of progressing to the next stage.

The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.